Flying Over I-40 E. And I want what I want…

3:45 am:  Alarm.

4:50 am:  DFW Airport.

6:05 am:  Boarding.

6:40 am:  Wheels up and over the pre-dawn lights of Dallas. Sunrise blazing orange on the horizon.

The National’s new album “Sleep Well Beast” has been playing on a loop for days now.  And, for 6 hours last night, the Beast did sleep well with the aid of two shots of Advil PM. For a man who swore off all forms of artificial assistance, I’m pumpin’ it now. Screw insomnia. I’m making the trade: Zombie for Woozy. A few moments of lucidity in exchange for Anne Michael’s black earth breathing its winter breath…And so far, so far, it’s workin’…

But let’s be a bit more precise, it’s not the album that’s been on a loop but “Empire Line“. I seem to sit, kneel and stand to this anthem with the mind parsing and plaiting the lyrics that burn the groove:

You’ve been sleeping for miles / So what did you see? / Here the sky’s been falling white flowers…/ Can’t you find a way? / Can’t you find a way? / And I want what I want / And I want everything / I want everything.

We climb to 35,000 feet and the giant steel bird levels out. [Read more…]

Flying over I-40 W. With Orange Sticks and Ashes.

6:15 a.m. But for two rows of ambient lights lining the aisle, the cabin is dark and quiet.

A few minutes earlier, the flight attendant completes her routine: “You are seated in the emergency-exit row of this aircraft. Are you ready, willing and able to open the exit hatch if needed?” It’s the right of passage for extra legroom. 11 of us mumble “yes.”

She’s Asian. Japanese, actually. I see two of her colleagues down the aisle, Japanese too.  Kermit the frog on Sesame Street: Today, I’m going to tell you about the word ‘Same.’ 3 flight attendants. All female. All Asian. All Japanese. All ~ 5’5″. Blue skirts. Dark navy pumps. Silver wings on lapel. Hair down, long, dark. Red lipstick applied just so, no coloring outside the lines. Robert Palmer’s hits come flashing in Simply Irresistible and Addicted to Love. Ladies, cloned, playing guitars, dancing.

You can’t sleep, you can’t eat
There’s no doubt, you’re in deep
Your throat is tight, you can’t breathe

I dip my hand in my pocket to check my boarding pass. Dallas. Yes. Tokyo. No.

I steal a glance at my seat mate. There’s a soft cover book on his lap:  “Thy Kingdom Come: Tracing God’s Kingdom Program” by J. Dwight Pentecost. He’s attentive. She walks through the FAA regulatory requirements…”Life vests are located beneath, or between your seats. Remove the vest from the pouch by pulling on the tab. Place the vest over your head, and fasten the straps to the front of the vest. Adjust the straps loosely around your waist. As you leave the aircraft, inflate the vest by pulling down on the red tabs, or manually inflate by blowing into the tubes on either side…”

His finger runs down the multi-fold laminated instructional card on emergency evacuations, his lips twitching as he follows along. No, no, not twitching, He’s Praying. JesusHe closes his eyes, both hands grip the arm rests.

[Read more…]

Flying Over I-40 N. With the World By the A**.

AA Flight 1150: DFW to LGA.  It’s 5:29 a.m., and I’m standing at the gate waiting to board the first flight out of Dallas. I’m watching the waitlist monitor, KAN.D is on page 2. Wow.  An upgrade to First, for a 6 a.m. boarding, will not happen.

Then confirmed.

“Sorry Sir, the upgrade list is closed.” 14th on the wait list. 14th! A Lifetime Platinum Member…means…Nothing.  I drag my carry-on on board, passing all the smug passengers in first class and take my seat.

The video monitor on the seat in front rotates through flight details:

  • 2 hr 59 min to destination
  • Estimated Arrival Time LGA: 10:35 a.m.
  • Altitude: 28,982.9 (and turbulent)

The GQ interview with Brad Pitt is still fresh…he recalls a conversation with Ryan McGinley…”When you get to be my age, never pass up a bathroom. Never trust a fart…”  And let’s leave the rest to your imagination.

Now that, triggered movement

I cautiously step down the aisle. The ship heaves left and right, a paper airplane battered like a piñata. If He really wanted to lean in here, we’d be dust. There’s something about flying that brings the immediacy of mortality to the forefront, not to the front to First Class of course, but to the front like in Coach.

If you possess a single cell of claustrophobia, you don’t want to be in the lavatory of an Airbus A321S in heavy turbulence.  One hand grips the cool stainless steel hand rail for stability.  The other hand rests on the lap, careful not to touch anything. The floor is wet, the soles of the shoes groan. The midsection is contorted to ensure no body part or article of clothing touches anything, and if I could have levitated above the seat without inflicting a groin pull, I would have done so.  How many before me, sitting here? (Butt) Skin to skin to skin to skin to skin.  I wash my hands, and take one look around this coffin. God, when it’s time, let it be in a grassy field, on a warm sunny day, laying among four-leaf clovers and poppies, and looking up at the bluest of blue skies. The closet closes in. Get me out of here. [Read more…]

Flying Over I-95 N. All Oversized. (Part III of III)

airplane-seat-fly

6:31 am.

I’m walking, my oversized shoes slap on the industrial carpet. Mr. Dandy is somewhere behind me.  My crumpled and oversized J. Crew Chino’s uncomfortably sag off my a**.  And, I’m dragging this bitch of a carry-on with its shrieking left wheel ricocheting its echo up and down the jetway.

I catch a faint mix of Purell hand sanitizer and sweat. The Purell is me, no doubt – the other half, just can’t be me. I crane my neck down to confirm, and it’s confirmed.  As I lift my head back up, I catch another shot, must be from the winter coat two bodies ahead.

I’m undeterred by all of this, beaming with good fortune – a complimentary upgrade to first class.

She’s behind me, but I don’t see her.

I stuff my bag into the overhead bin, and step out of the aisle to let the traffic pass.  She points to the window: “I’m sorry, but that’s my seat.”

In the tight quarters of the aisle, we are separated by inches. She’s in her mid to late 20’s.   She’s wearing jeans, and a baggy red sweater.  She’s an inch or two shorter, but I’m dwarfed by her, by a minimum of 1.3x my body weight.  She settles in her seat. [Read more…]

Flying Over I-95 N. With Mr. Dandy. (Part II of III)

airport-planes-aerial

I’m sitting, at the gate. 6 am.

Slumped in the seat, I unstrap the day-to-moment: alarm, bleary-eyed 4 am shower, the pack-up, the last once-over of the room, the tip for the cleaning lady, the hotel checkout including erasure of the $18.95 wifi overcharge, tip for the bellman, cab, boarding pass, security and of course, the slow march down the corridor with the bag. The bloody bag, wheels now up, exhausted from the trek, is resting peacefully.

Sigh. It’s ok.

I twist in the ear buds, find Today’s Chill playlist and turn inward, deep into the Head.

30 minutes till boarding.

There’s a stir in the waiting area. Ladies chattering.

Hair gelled and swept back. Fitted black sport coat. White starched shirt. Skinny black tie. Slim fit, boot cut, stone-washed jeans. European style boots, fine polish. Accessorized with a smart brown leather case, Louis Vuitton-like with a fancy French handle like Porte-Documents Jour. As he passes by check-in, there’s a whiff of Tom Ford oud wood eau de perfume which fills the waiting area with its rose wood, cardamom, and tonka bean alchemy. Ladies swoon, now fully under the spell.

He takes the empty seat next to me, and sets the Porte-Documents Jour neatly on his lap.

I slide my bag under the seat, out of sight. Jesus. Mr. Dandy had to sit here? [Read more…]

Flying Over I-95 N. With Wheels Up (Part I of III)

runway-plane-airport

Shoes are slapping on the high gloss waxed floors.  It’s 5 am. I’m walking down wide corridors, the same corridors where an hour earlier the cleaner worked his canvas in his blue starched shirt with its corporate logo on the right pocket, his dark navy pants, his work boots pumpin’ the gas-brake pedals of the industrial floor waxer. MLK, if a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. Michelangelo was here. He was.

Airports. The only thing clean, are its floors, and to a high sheen.

I’m dragging my beat-up carry-on to the gate, its left wheel handicapped from birth, and wailing the same suffering pitch for six or seven years as if stabbed with a knife at each turn of the wheel. You think nothing of spending hundreds for the latest gadget upgrade, but when it comes to luggage…

And the whispering starts.

Mother with toddler. Honey, tuck in here next to me. Cover your ears until that poor old man passes. I know, it hurts.

Retired Couple. Oh, Sam, look at him. He can’t afford new luggage. Should we ask him if he needs a few dollars to buy some WD-40? [Read more…]

Flying S-SW. 2,000,000 and counting.

full-moon-plane-fly

38,000 feet above Earth.
This flight is a milestone: 2,000,000 miles on American Airlines.
Congratulations. You’ve achieve lifetime Platinum status on AA.
Another goal chased and passed.
A sigh. And then quickly comes the ‘so what.’

The mind burrows back.

It was the Harvest Moon as we touched down in Warsaw.

It was early morning in our approach: “Sweet blueberry or strawberry yogurt Sir?” Are all the women this beautiful in Singapore?

It was the security lines at Heathrow post-9-11, waiting for the red-eye back to New York. The tense shuffling of feet.

It was the soft flowing arid landscape of Athens.  Hogan whispering: “Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still they say. Watch and listen.” Ancient sacred grounds stirring the depths of the soul. Greek Gods. Feel their presence.

But, there’s interference in my rooting back.
Back never holds me for long.
Back like Jack. Kerouac that is. “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”

It’s one image that flares.
And won’t let go. [Read more…]

Flying. Over Interstate 80 East.

fly,plane,jet,window,clouds,photography

It’s 8:00 am Friday morning.  Delta flight 466, a non-stop to JFK, departing at 8:30.

Hordes of travelers mill around the gate — all restless, anxious, and shifting from one foot to the other waiting for their zone to be called.

With no status on this airline, my concern rests with available overhead bin storage capacity. My shoulders tense up. I will cram this bloody carryon bag under my seat to avoid checking it. 

158 seats are taken on this 160-seat Boeing 737-800.  I see space in an overhead bin at the front of the plane, and suffer the stares as I jam my bag between two others. I know this is against First Class rules. But, go ahead Lady. Say something. Grab this Tiger by the tail. I’m operating on 4 hours of sleep, and just itching for confrontation. Go ahead. Give it your best shot.

The middle seat to my right remains open. Passengers continue to board. Could this be my lucky day? Or…Not? Could he or she be an armrest hog? Take frequent bathroom breaks? Bring a pungent and messy burrito on board for breakfast? Listen to music blaring from earbuds? Have a drippy nose? Body odor? Be doused in perfume? Nosy? LEANER? TALKER? [Read more…]

Flying over I-95 S. With Germanwings Flight 9525.

plane-window-touch

Flight departure: 6:59am. From LGA to points South.
A restless night. I’m tossing. Turning. Weary.
Up before the alarm. I shower, shave, dress, zip up suitcase.
And, bolt out the door at 4:30 am.

Good Morning.
This is Captain Greg with First Officer John.
We’ve reached our cruising altitude at 38,000 feet

We’re expecting a smooth flight this morning.

The German newspaper Bild reports that 1.5 hours of audio was obtained from the black box and shows the plane reaching a cruising altitude of 38,000 at 10:27 am local time.

The morning sun beams through the window. The sky is marked with thin wispy clouds, but otherwise steely blue. Another spectacular day on Planet Earth.

The recordings picked up every detail of the co-pilot’s actions – suggesting that he was conscious and alert. “We could hear him breathing. He breathed normally.”¹

The stewardess doles out water and soft drinks. My noise canceling headphones are feeding in Jackson Browne. Sky Blue and Black. I’m in an aisle seat 14D. The aisle is clear. My line of sight to the cockpit door is clear. The door is reinforced with a four-inch steel plate. Gray, cool, steel.

The Germanwings Flight 9525 blackbox audio indicates the captain attempted to break down his flight’s cockpit door with an ax as the Airbus A320 accelerated into the French Alps.²

[Read more…]

Flying over I-95 N. Sometimes, you gotta go.

Airplane-Lavatory-Door

We are lifting off on flight #2395 heading back north.

I sneak a last peak at my smartphone, a text message from home:

It’s windy (very) here.  Expect a bumpy descent into NY. 

Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers comes to mind. Help! Thanks! Wow!  Thank YOU for the soothing send-off. My fingers are on the keys to fire back a rocket. I decide against it. What incredible restraint you have shown. And yet, so unlike you. I sit and ponder whether I’ve finally matured in Middle Age. Shake my head. An aberration from the mean. I’ll get the final word when I get home.

And, it’s choppy.

The beverage cart is rolled cautiously down the aisle. It is now a “beverage” cart. There are no longer any complimentary snacks on two and half hour flights. It is noted that the seats still recline, and they are complimentary as part of the ticket purchase.

I ask for a Diet Coke. It will dissolve a nail and here you are fueling your tank. She offers me the entire can. Just drink half.  Do it.  I slug it back, all of it, like a thirsty sailor. There are no napkins, those cost extra, so I wipe the spillage with my shirt sleeve. Class.

And, it’s choppy.

As the plane lurches up and down and left and right, the soda sloshes around. The Oxidation process is well under way, my intestines groan.  In my youth, my bowels could swell up like a dirigible and I would feel no discomfort – a light balloon drifting in a summer breeze. No longer. A whiff of dew and he’s a boogie-eyed meerkat on look out for the toilet.

And, it’s choppy.

Expect a bumpy descent into NY. We’re still one and half hours away.

There are core foundational principles with air travel. On the top of this list: “Avoid the Lavatory.” Unless you are ready to explode, don’t do it. Why do they call it a lavatory? Lavatory. It sounds like Def: A location where medical research is being conducted. But it is def: A room with a toilet and sink. AND LAYERS OF JUMPIN’ BACTERIA. The best outcome here is avoidance. Period. There is no close second.

And, it’s choppy. [Read more…]

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